September 23, 2011


“The Help” must have been a difficult novel to write because though its story is told by a woman about women, black and white, the temptation to create stock figures must have been great: the bitch, the idealist, the follower, the rebel, the timid…

No doubt the history of the period gives the book heft but the author provides subtlety to her characters. That helps the book, if not the movie version.   Regrettably, director Kate Taylor can’t resist stereotypes and that provides an uneven depiction. Mainly we see silly white women tormenting black women and each other as if they were competing in a gigantic mud wrestling event.  


I don’t say there’s no truth to these depictions. We see a variation in the 1936 play, “The Women.” Claire Booth Luce exposed the follies of Manhattan socialites as they maneuvered for social status. There are times when we gals don’t take a back seat to men when it comes to competition and a lack of scruples. We  just play the game differently. A director needs to be sensitive to the differences without trivializing them. To do so is to fail to understand the game is lethal, though not a drop of blood is shed. Characters robbed of their tragic dimension can never be taken seriously. Kate Taylor, the film’s director, never caught the pathos Kathryn Stockett wrote into her characters. In the book, even the unlikable are rendered whole. “The Help” is as much about women’s insecurities as it is about discrimination.